12 March 2018 – It took Margo Morgan a month of working flat out to put everything in place for the recent Bloemfontein Junior Squash Open. "It went very well at the expense of physical beings, Calvin [Deutschmann] and me, and those who worked," she said recently.
"It's a huge undertaking. It was very successful. We had few hassles and few issues. It is just huge and it takes its toll."
As one of three tournaments used to determine national rankings and the selection of South African junior teams, the event is a significant one on the national calendar, and thus pretty much a can’t-miss competition for the country’s top young players.
National junior men's selector Margo Morgan is the driving force, together with Calvin Deutschmann, behind the Bloemfontein Junior Squash Open
It has taken a lot of work over many years by Margo and Calvin Deutschmann, the brains trust behind boys’ squash in South Africa (and Saint Andrew’s, of course) to make it into the outstanding event that it is. But success and big numbers, Margo elaborated, come with some challenges: "We are blessed in that the tournament attracts so many kids. Initially, nobody wanted to sponsor it, because it is so big, and the magnitude of getting involved is big, because, if a sponsor comes in they can't just sponsor one or two age groups, they need to go across the board.
Consistency and excellence, however, have been rewarded in recent years: "Last year, Dunlop came in for the first time and helped a lot, and now they have assisted again this year, and their sponsorship is to be reviewed for next year.
"One of our really loyal sponsors, who are quiet and behind the scenes is Kloppers. They arrange for the balls for us for the tournament. That takes a lot of pressure off the financial constraints of the event. That's about 14 dozen squash balls for the weekend. That's a lot and that really helps."
Holding a tournament of the magnitude of the Bloemfontein Junior Open is far from simple. No one facility in the city comes close to having enough courts to host over 500 players. "The costs to run this event are extreme,” Margo said. “You have to rent all the courts, you have to pay cleaners to clean, you've got to pay people to work because you can't get someone to stand at the court for 26 hours on the trot and not pay them. The students that come in and run the venues have to be paid and that's a lot."
Over the years, she and Calvin have learnt lessons about what works and tried not to reinvent the wheel. They tweak things when necessary, but otherwise stick with a winning recipe. Numbers change from year to year, however, so it is not simply a matter of plug in and play.
Calvin Deutschmann received the Fiat Lux Award in 2017 for his outstanding service to squash at Saint Andrew's
"It's never perfect, but we've got a good database and a good plan that has worked for many years. Don't ask me how we ever did the first one, because I don't think I know!" Margo exclaimed.
To make the Bloemfontein Open work, every single squash club in Bloemfontein gives up their courts for the weekend of the event. "It means that for an entire weekend no adult can hit a squash ball, unless they go and play before seven in the morning. That's not always easy, but the clubs have been good to us," Margo said.
"I have gone from the point of view that this is a national selection event, so if the clubs don't support us every parent in this town must pay for their kid to go and play somewhere else. It's about meals, accommodation, travel, it's all those things, and then it costs our community."
Getting every club on board clearly takes some doing, but, she explained, they agree with the positive impact that the event produces for squash in Bloemfontein and the Free State. She explained: "The way that I have sold this to the clubs is from the point of view that it benefits our own community to do this. I am not so sure that it benefits our physical beings!" she laughed.
"It also benefits the clubs because it draws people and there is revenue coming in. If the clubs are on board and they want to, they can run tuck shops and earn income at their bars. There are not just kids there, there are parents as well. It is a money-spinner for them and they charge us.
"That's how we do it and I think that the club's have come to realise that they don't have a lot of money. Where do they get money from? Membership fees. They have come to realise that it is a benefit for them as well. It's not just about the juniors, the seniors can benefit from it as well.
Players and their families travel from all corners of South Africa to participate in the Bloemfontein Junior Open Squash Tournament
"It is very, very important for Free State squash because Free State squash is relatively small when you compare us to places like Gauteng, which has massive numbers, the Western Cape and KwaZulu-Natal. They all have lots of private schools and that's where you find all the squash.
"If you look at it in Bloemfontein, you realise that it is just Saint Andrew's and Grey on the boys' side who have courts. Where does that leave us in terms of giving our kids exposure to grow and develop and be able to play at a provincial level?"
Any players from the region are able to enter the Bloemfontein Open, which is immensely valuable in terms of exposure to top level squash.
"If we don't do this, Free State Squash will suffer and, obviously, the Saint Andrew's boys then don't get that opportunity," Margo said.
The event is also good for Saints, she added, and the school has become known for its excellence in the sport. "While we don't necessarily go looking for players, we can see that there have been spin-offs. Over the years, kids have been attracted here because of the squash. I look at someone like [former South African under-19 number one] John Kuhn, for example. Years back, when there was still post-matric, I look at a guy like Darryl Swartz, from Border, that came here.
"I look at a guy like Joe Meyer now. Joe is a good cricketer as well, but squash is something that has attracted them. They know that there is an infrastructure here that is going to support them. People associate Saint Andrew's School with squash.
Although he is in grade 8 only, Joe Meyer is already playing squash for the Saint Andrew's 1st team
"From a mileage point of view, I think the school gets a lot of exposure. When the players and their families get here, it's not just the squash, they see the facilities and they see what's on offer. It goes further than just squash. I think there's a spin-off for Saint Andrew's in that context as well. It's a huge bonus for our kids."
Saint Andrew’s boys found the going tough at this year’s Bloemfontein Open, but the fact that it features South Africa’s best junior players should not be understated.
Reflecting on her charges’ performances, Margo said: "Our under-16s battled a bit, but, again, the under-16 group is exceptionally strong. There's a very strong group that has come through from under-14 into under-16. Very, very strong, a very talented group."
The Saint Andrew's 1st team
The Saint Andrew’s 1st team at present is made up of a matric boy (Jesse Berlyn), a grade 11 (Kyle Kitching), three grade 10s (Keanan Cantor, Lenny Kretzmann and Dale Fletcher) and a grade 8 (Joe Meyer). They’re a talented sextet, but their relative youth compared to other top teams makes for a demanding challenge.
"When you go to a tournament like the Bloemfontein Open, the boys are playing against their own age group. It's strength versus strength, but playing in your first team, when you are out of the age group, that takes a lot," Margo said. "The boys are playing under extreme pressure and they will get there. They are committed and they are a bunch of hard-working boys.
"I see good things for us long-term, and I hope it will stay like that."